The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.
James and Stewart-Cousins: Public Financing Will Benefit Women
In a Sunday op-ed in the Journal News, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York State Senator and Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins described the benefits that public financing of elections would bring for women in New York. One observed effect is more women in elected office. The national average for the percentage of elected women lawmakers in state legislative bodies is 24.2 percent. But in five states with public financing, it is much higher: for instance, 35.6 percent in Arizona and 29.4 percent in Connecticut. In New York State, this figure is even lower than the national average at 21.2 percent—in spite of the fact that women make-up more than half of the state’s population. When legislators reflect the population they serve, it strengthens our democracy. And if more women are elected to public office, they can push for attention to issues that affect women and families. Senator Stewart-Cousins took to the radio waves to share her message on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom as well. The president of the think tank Demos, Heather McGhee, agreed in an op-ed in the Albany Times Union, outlining how public financing can lead to greater diversity in our government. In the Journal News, James and Stewart-Cousins concluded, “The governor and the Legislature must move this proposal past the finish line. New York deserve[s] nothing less.”
Schwarz and Soros in Times-Union: “Alternatives” to Reform Are Likely to Maintain Status Quo
In the Albany Times-Union this weekend, Frederick Schwarz, chief counsel at the Brennan Center, and Jonathan Soros, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, criticized alternatives to real campaign finance reform floating around in Albany. Public financing of elections is supported by a majority of state legislators, the governor, and residents of New York. However, opponents of reform have proposed different ‘remedies’ that are likely to leave special interests as firmly entrenched as they are now. One idea is to overhaul our campaign finance laws through a constitutional amendment. The long and cumbersome process associated with this strategy is sure to delay reform beyond the 2018 elections—which is precisely what some politicians want. New Yorkers cannot afford to wait any longer in light of the epidemic of legislative corruption. “The legislature has all the authority it needs to enact this policy by simple statute, and uses that power regularly on far more controversial issues when it suits it,” Schwarz and Soros said. This week, as the final state budget is negotiated, the governor has a simple choice: to pass real reform and deliver on his promise, or allow the corrupt status quo to continue under the guise of change.
Norden: Public Financing Would Reduce Corruption
Writing in response to an op-ed by Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, Brennan Center Deputy Director Lawrence Norden stated that implementing publicly financed elections in New York is well worth the cost. The reform proposal would allow candidates that can gather enough donations from their constituents the opportunity to access public matching funds in exchange for adhering to stricter contribution limits. Despite the obvious advantages, it is no surprise that special interests that benefit from the status quo of purchasing political access, are opposed to the measure. Sampson’s specious claims were that (1) public financing in jurisdictions such as New York City has not deterred corruption, and that (2) implementing it will cost taxpayers a fortune. However, as the Brennan Center has noted before, New York City has not experienced anything like the corruption scandal of the past since public financing was first instituted. In addition, as Bill Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney of Onondaga County has pointed out—after studying the matter on the Moreland Commission—public financing would lead to “astronomical” savings in the long run due to fewer sweetheart deals for special interests. Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders that support reform must now ensure these vital proposals are not bargained away during budget negotiations this week.
Citizens Union Report: Public Financing Generates Greater Electoral Competition
A new report by Citizens Union of the City of New York describes the startling differences between New York City and New York State elections when it comes to incumbency and competition. New York City has an operational and highly successful public financing system with low contribution limits, while Albany has no such arrangement in place and sky-high contribution limits. The results speak for themselves. From 2006 to 2012, 21 percent of all state legislative elections in New York City were uncontested, whereas during roughly the same time period, only 8 percent of New York City council races were uncontested. In the 2012 state primary election, only 27 percent of state assemblymen and 18 percent of state senators faced challengers, compared to 57 percent of council members in the 2013 city council primaries. Dick Dadey, the group’s executive director, stated that the report “demonstrates the need for the state to enact comprehensive campaign finance reforms with public funding so that voters have greater choice and our democracy becomes healthier.”
Staten Island Advance: Public Financing Would Make Elections More Competitive
The Staten Island Advance editorialized in favor of matching small donations with state funds this week, in light of the Citizens Union report showing that elections for the New York City council are more competitive than those for the New York State legislature. High contribution limits for state campaigns contribute to this uncompetitive environment by allowing incumbents to build up their war chests to intimidate any rising challengers. The Advance called for comprehensive reform including lower contribution limits, pay-to-play restrictions on lobbyists, greater disclosure, and most importantly a “public matching program that empowers small donors.” Arguing that reforms would be a step in the right direction, the newspaper emphasized that they would go a long way towards reducing incumbency, which breeds a “dysfunctional refuge of politics behind closed doors.”